Saturday, 31 January 2009

Ramblings About the Garden

Following on from my previous post, here's a photo of the sweet corn and the maize. The sweet corn is on the lower left corner of the photo and as you can see, has not suffered damage due to the heat. The maize in the adjacent bed, however, is suffering quite a bit.

The main difference is the preparation of the sweet corn bed before planting - it received a double dose of manure. Although I have watered the maize more than the sweet corn and given it seaweed extract, it is less resilient.

Clearly, bed preparation is going to be paramount in the years to come.

Despite the hot weather, it's not all bad around the garden at the moment. The elder has decided to have a second flush of flowers, reminding us that elderflower cordial is particularly cooling in the hot weather. The recipe I use is from Self-sufficientish. We've been enjoying this today, mixed with mineral water and ice.

With the warmer weather, many seeds are ripening in the garden. This morning I collected a mix of broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage seed, which I'm calling "brassica surprise"; mignonette lettuce seeds, carrot seeds, white beetroot seeds and calendula seeds.

All the seeds are looking very healthy, thanks no doubt to our little buzzy friends.

While watering the roses this morning, a thought popped into my head about planting lettuces between the roses. I consulted the companion planting books to find that mignonette lettuce make a great companion for roses, as do garlic and onions. Well, now I know where those lettuce seeds are going . . .

love and light

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Keeping Our Plants Alive During the Heat

I've been thinking a lot lately about how we can keep our gardens going and keep producing food during the hot weather we've been having.

Maybe the main culprit is not the heat but the dryness of the air? Certainly here, the humidity is usually close to zero during the summer heat and the air seems to suck the moisture out of everything.

The beans form nicely on the climbing bean plants, but they almost dry on the bush before they are fully developed. The plants look fine and are mulched and watered, but the air is so dry it dries out the fruit as it hangs on the plant.

So, I've been trying to think of ways to reduce the evaporation from my plants. Things like the old sheet canopy I put over the carrots to get them to germinate or possibly some sort of shade tunnel that could also be used to ward off the first few frosts? Or get the food forest thing happening in the orchard . . .

Then last night I was visiting Molly's blog and she had a post about some online resources. Adding to my heat-induced sleep deficit (yawn!), I decided to pay the site a visit. I found an article by William Albrecht which claimed that the absence of water was not what damaged plants during drought, but the fertility and depth of the soil. That is, plant hunger, rather than plant thirst!

Dr Albrecht's basic argument is that if soil is prepared and made fertile to greater depths than used in conventional agriculture that the plants will use the available water in the soil more completely and more efficiently. He cites experiments to support his theory.

Interestingly, the vegie bed that is best surviving the heat at my place is the one in which I grew the oats last winter. The oats left the soil in a very fine tilth, although not that deep. Because I thought the oats might have taken out a lot of nutrients, I gave that bed twice the amount of manure that I normally do. I also gave it a good dig over to distribute the manure. This bed is planted up fairly densely with sweet corn, tomatoes and rockmelons and is coping much better than the maize in the next bed.

The other bed still coping very well is the asparagus bed, which I heavily manure twice a year and give the odd dose of seaweed extract and fish emulsion. The asparagus are barely fluttering a fern with the heat.

Well, it could be canopy cover - both of these beds have good leafy coverage. But so do some of the other beds. It could be the plants, but the same plants in other beds are not coping nearly as well with the heat. It could be the mulch, but most of the other beds are mulched as well, if not better. And, if anything, the maize bed gets more water than the sweet corn bed and certainly more than the asparagus bed.

So, maybe William Albrecht's studies have something to show us - prepare the soil well and deep to maximise fertility and the plants will survive. It's certainly made me think about doing much more preparation in the garden this winter to try to build the humus and soil fertility.

Which brings me to another point. In naturopathy, we talk about a person's vitality. The theory is that the more vital the person (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually), that the more likely they are to be resistant to disease and the more resilient they are likely to be.

Surely the same must apply to our gardens. We can't stop the heat, but maybe we can build our gardens to be more resilient to it.

Forecasts about climate change are predicting temperature rises of 0.4C to 2C by 2030, with more hot days over 35C.

This means we need to build our gardens to be able to cope with more summers like this one. I'm going to be putting some serious thought into this and I would love to hear any ideas you may have about how we can help our plants survive. I'd also love to hear if you have some areas of your garden surviving the heat better than others and what the differentiating factors might be.

love and light

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Lightbulb Dilemma

This morning going into work, there was a segment on our local ABC about the energy saving light globes.

Yes, they save energy (between 60 to 80%, depending on the brand), but they also contain mercury and they have deleterious effects on some people's health, eg, those people with radiation sensitivity and some people with epilepsy.

Like many people we "greened" our lighting several years ago, but now we are having second thoughts.

So, I thought I'd do some calculations so we could compare the energy savings with the other environmental factors.

Assume an average household has about 20 lightbulbs (including outside lights, lamps and room lighting) - count them up and be surprised!

If these are all energy savers, which have about 5mg of mercury each, at any one time, there is about 100mg or 0.1g of mercury plugged into the light sockets. There are currently about 130,000 households in Canberra, so if everyone is using energy saving bulbs, there is 13,000g or 13kg of mercury plugged into our light sockets in Canberra alone, not counting the amount used by business and government.

Across Australia, if everyone used energy saving bulbs in their households, we'd have in excess of 800,000g or 800kg of mercury. And that's not counting businesses, schools, government, hospitals, etc, etc. That's a lot of mercury to dispose of safely!

Now to the energy side of the equation. Assume each household uses 4 lights for 4 hours each day, amounting to 16 lightbulb-hours. If these are (on average) about 70W bulbs, each house would use 1.12 KWh each day for lighting or 408.8 kWh each year. If the energy saving bulbs save, on average, 70%, the energy saving per household each year would be 286.2 kWh.

In Canberra, this would save about 37.2 GWh each year. Across Australia, it would be more like 2346 GWh. That's a lot of energy!

It takes about 1 tonne of coal to make 2500 kWh of electricity. So, each household using energy saving bulbs would save about 114 kg coal. Across Canberra, this would be about 14,882 tonnes of coal. Across Australia, it would be 938,700 tonnes of coal. Not to mention the water and other resources required.

So, at the end of the day, in order to light Australia's households, we have over 800kg mercury vs nearly 940,000 tonnes of coal.

I'm really not sure how to balance this equation. It's a lot of mercury to dispose of safely and it's a lot of coal to dig out of the ground.

Because of the potential health risks, we've decided to use the old incandescent lightbulbs as long as possible. But we minimise our lighting and strive to have only one light on at a time at night, maximum two. I'm not absolutely sure we are doing the right thing. But then I'm not absolutely sure that the new energy saving light bulbs are the right way to go either. So, it comes down to a personal decision.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this one.

love and light

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Bee Food Plant Buys

I simply can't be trusted near a plant nursery. But I didn't actually go near one - honest!!! Just went to the local Farmer's Market this morning and there were all these people selling plants and well, you know the rest . . . .

Having said that, I'm rather pleased with what I bought, most of it being able to provide food for the bees:

12 English Lavender
3 Rosemary bushes (upright)
1 Thyme
1 Lemon Thyme
1 Lemon Scented Verbena
2 Hibiscus
2 Penstemon
1 Liriope
1 Daisy bush

And all of this for the princely sum of $58. Most impressed.

Now speaking of the bees, I opened the hive last week to have a look at how they are going. They've pretty much filled the bottom box with brood and honey and I'm hoping they'll move up into the top box soon.

Not sure if we'll get any honey this season, as we need to leave enough for them to overwinter. But I'm just happy that they seem to be doing well.

love and light

Friday, 23 January 2009

Frugal Friday Food

This Christmas, I bought a tray of mangoes, as the children always love them. Wrong! They've "gone off them" it seems and so although I was munching away, the heat was threatening to turn all the remaining mangoes to mush.

Hating the thought of throwing them out, we turned them into mango chutney, which goes brilliantly with curries. Here's the recipe, modified from one online at the ABC.

Mango Chutney
1kg mango flesh, diced
330g onions, diced
500g raw sugar
300ml white vinegar
250g sultanas
2 Tblspn finely chopped ginger
0.75 tspn each of mixed spice, ground cloves, mustard seed, curry powder, nutmeg
1.25 dessertspoons salt

Place all ingredients in a pot. Bring to the boil, stirring often. Cook until the mixture is thick. Bottle and seal.

This makes a sweet mango chutney. If you like it hot, you could add spice / chilli accordingly.

I love raw homemade muesli, with chopped nuts, seeds and dried fruits. However, I'm the only one in our house who does and so I recently made a toasted muesli or granola to tempt the others.

The finished result is a little sweet (for me), so I would halve the amount of honey next time. But the others loved it, so I thought I'd post the recipe.

Toasted Muesli
2 cups rolled oats
0.5 cup shedded cocnut
1 cup almonds
0.5 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 cup sultanas
0.5 cups chopped dried apricots
1 cup apple sauce / puree
0.5 cup honey
0.25 cup oil

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the apple sauce, honey and oil together, then combine well with the dry ingredients.

Spread the mixture onto baking trays (on paper) and place in a cold oven. Set to 150C (300F) and come back in 30 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the muesli to cool in the oven for another 30 minutes. When cold, store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

This toasted muesli can be eaten as it is or in a bowl with milk or milk substitute. It could also be pressed into a tin prior to baking and you'd get muesli bars (although I haven't tried this out).

Happy eating!

love and light

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

WooHoo Wednesday!

Well, I had the scan this morning and picked up the results this afternoon. It is all OK. The residual mass is still there but it is not growing - it appears to be what they call "scar tissue". All is good.

Added bonus: while waiting for the scan this morning, I noticed one of my favourite people in the waiting room. We had a good chat before our scans and met up for coffee and a chat afterwards. We had a few good laughs and I'm sure it made the whole experience better for both of us.

The last 48 hours have been truly amazing. Last night it rained (5mm) and so the garden has been revived. We may even get more rain in the next few days. Yippee!

I also found out yesterday afternoon that the course I had been saving for in February has been postponed to later in the year, so I now have more than enough money for the juicer. And to top it off, my out of pocket expenses for the scan were about half of what I'd been expecting.

Those moths? Well, they pushed me into thinking again about going all glass in the pantry. This afternoon in between the scan and picking up the results I went into one of the local shops and found beautiful big glass storage jars quite cheaply.

All this has made me think. The universe really does provide, even if not in the ways we would expect. If it hadn't been for those moths, I wouldn't have found the bottles so cheaply. And seeing my need for the juicer, the universe arranged it so I would have enough money. And my lovely neighbour offered to lend me one.

I feel so blessed and looked after right now. Not only in material ways, but also spiritually. It has been a great reminder to trust that everything will be alright and that it all has its place and time, even if I can't see it at the time. I feel somewhat embarrassed I posted about my fears now, as they all ended up being groundless. Must remember that next time I get myself worked up.

All is good. I truly hope it is with you too.

love and light

Monday, 19 January 2009

Maudlin Monday and Gratitude

Well, today's one of those days when I'm in danger of letting my fears and anxieties get on top of me. And tonight I received a wonderful email about gratitude from a dear friend and it's helped me get back on top of things.

Just before Christmas two oft-used appliances decided to go belly up - the food saver and the juicer. In addition, my computer has been a bit cantankerous for the last six months or so - it took me over two hours to get it to boot up and be stable yesterday. It's old and it's dying and I need to replace it.

So, I've been a little concerned about juggling money around to replace the above items. The new food saver was found at a sale on Friday YAY! We tried it out Saturday morning and it works better than the old one ever did. Double YAY! And I'm really grateful that we found it and it was on sale and that it works better than the old one.

I thought my computer was definitely kaput yesterday, so went window shopping on my partner's machine and found what I think is a pretty good deal. I've also done some juicer research and narrowed it down to a couple of choices.

So, if I buy the computer (which I really do need when studies resume in a couple of weeks), I won't be able to afford the juicer for a little while (and I'm really missing my vegie juices!). But I'm grateful that if I just have a little patience and prioritise my spending, I will be able to afford both items.

Tonight I went to the cupboard to get some rice for our dinner. To my dismay, I found that the cupboard was infested with moths (how is it that they are suddenly there?) and that most of the rice that we had stored has been ruined. But I'm grateful that we did have some rice left unmothed and that they didn't get into the next cupboard which houses all our flours and other grains. And that my darling man helped me clean up the mess they'd made.

The summer sun is also testing me at the moment. It's damaging a lot of plants and my visions of bumper crops are rapidly waning. But I'm grateful that the citrus seem to be doing well and there are small oranges on one of the trees. I'm also grateful that I can turn on a tap and water the garden (within restrictions, of course!).

Now to the biggie. I have a CT scan booked for Wednesday to check on the residual mass from the lymphoma I was diagnosed with nearly seven years ago. I really do not like having the scans because there's always the possibility that the wretched thing is growing again.

This scan is a kind of critical one - it's just a few weeks before the five year anniversary of my stem cell transplant. So, if everything is alright, as it should be, then I'll have reached a pretty important milestone. But there's always the worry that it's not and then what? But I'm grateful for the medical know-how that's kept me alive so far and for the support of my wonderful partner, family and friends.

I'll probably be a bit of a wreck for the next couple of days until I have the scan and get the results, but I'm hoping Wednesday might be Woohoo Wednesday!

Reading this over, I realise I'm really very fortunate if these are my major concerns. After all, I live in a free country in relative luxury, compared to a lot of people in the world. I could have been born in Bosnia or Iraq or Ethiopia or Zimbabwe or . . .

I'm so lucky! We're so lucky! Enjoy your life. It's a good one.

love and light

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Open Pollination and Natural Hybrids

One of the great things about growing your own food is being able to by-pass the hybrids produced by multi-national agribusinesses and use open pollinated varieties. This enables us to save our own seed, but sometimes the results are a bit interesting.

Exhibit One
In one of my garden beds I planted kale seed purchased from a supplier of open pollinated seeds. The result is shown at left LOL!

It's hard to see it in this picture, but the actual colour of the kale-cauli is a soft lemon-lime green and there are small leaves in between the florets. Not quite what I expected, but I'm sure it will be good eating.

Exhibit Two
Last year I saved an assortment of zucchini and squash seeds. On this bush, we have a cute little stripey button squash and on the same bush, there is the regular light green button squash. Go figure!

Exhibit Three
Local rumour has it that this is a natural hybrid occurring between a cougar and a domestic cat. Hmmm . . .

Now to a completely different subject - the carrot seeds I sowed in the peat moss have sprouted! The trick obviously works. But I might take up Stewart's suggestion and try seed raising mix in the furrow next time.

love and light

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Consumerism Rampant in Canberra

In the local free paper, there was an article which claimed that Canberrans, on average, spent $1475 each year on products they either never used or threw away. Counting the cats as consumers (well, you've seen the size of them! ;)) and given the children are here part-time, we thought that would amount to our household wasting in the vicinity of $5000 per annum.

Across Australia, if all Australians lived like this (and I'm guessing they don't), this would equate to about 30 billion dollars wasted each year. This is staggering.

My partner and I thought about this - wasting $100 each and every week. We had a good chat and realised that we couldn't actually afford to waste this much money - we've other priorities for our money, like chook houses and water tanks.

Yes, some items may be bought ahead of when they are actually used, but they are eventually used. Very little food ever gets thrown out - it usually gets preserved in some way prior to that happening. If we have something we no longer need, we generally find someone to pass it on to or donate it to charity. We've streamlined gift giving with the wish book and put a halt to Christmas gift exchanges with many family and friends, so we've minimised receiving something we won't use.

I'm not saying we are perfect - far from it. I'm sure we could easily live with less than we do. But we are trying to be conscious about our purchases and only buy what we will use or give to others.

I'm still astounded at this level of waste in our society. What do people buy to cause such waste? Really interested to read your thoughts on this one.

love and light

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Saturday Savings . . . and Spendings

A few weeks ago, I was a bitt miffed when I went to buy some dolomite at the local hardware. They were charging over $11 for a 5kg bag. This morning I bought a 25kg bag for $8.50 from the produce store. Yippee for a frugal find!

This afternoon I blew any frugality by going on a plant and garden buying spree. Here's what I came home with:
  • 1 bird bath
  • 1 arch for the roses in the front garden
  • 4 bags of potting mix and a small bag of peat moss
  • 1 yard broom
  • 2 lavenders
  • 1 Chinese star jasmine
  • 1 buddleia
  • 2 blueberry bushes (Denise variety)
  • 1 hebe
  • 1 Mexican mock orange
  • assorted punnets - salvias, petunias, snapdragons, cornflowers, dianthus, daisies, dahlias, gazanias, vincas and verbenas

In my defence, the front garden, long neglected, will get a make-over tomorrow. I've decided that rather than neglecting the pretties, I need to encourage them. After all, the flowers often make good bee food, as well as being food for the soul.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Frugal Friday

Following the lead from The Crone, I was thinking about doing a "Frugal Friday" spot. Given I'm not very good at keeping to regular things, let's just see how this goes.

The tip for today is for people who like to sew (I was going to say for the sewers! ;) LOL).

Annoyed with the cost of thread? Invest a few dollars in a cone thread stand for your machine. You can then use overlocking thread for your sewing, which works out a lot cheaper than regular sewing thread (a 2000m spool is only about $2-$3).

I have been doing this for years and I find there are fewer thread breakages than with normal sewing thread (and I used to use top name brands!). Even though it is polyester, I have also found it will stand up to a hot iron when pressing seams in quilts. This thread is suitable for just about any sewing you care to do.

The one drawback with using overlocking thread is that it only comes in a fairly limited number of colours. So, I use it for the bulk of the sewing on a garment or quilt and use the more expensive thread for any top-stitching (if needed). Often, I am able to make a garment without purchasing any thread the exact shade of the fabric.

You would be surprised at how much this can save you.

love and light

Wednesday, 7 January 2009


You never know what is going to happen next here - like when I woke up with a craving for doughnuts one morning before Christmas. Now, these are not my usual fare and being a bit intolerant to wheat, I decided to throw some gluten free ones together - sans recipe.

Talking to The Crone later that day, my corruptive influence had her making Churros. She said she would post her recipe if I posted mine. Trouble was, I had to wait until I made them again (so I could write down what I did and take a photo), so the other day I treated the children to homemade doughnuts for breakfast. Here it is.


3 eggs
1.75 cups buttermilk (saved from butter making)
0.25 cup sugar
3 cups plain flour
8 teaspoons baking powder

Oil for cooking
1 cup caster sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons cinnamon for rolling cooked doughnuts

Beat all ingredients together with a wooden spoon.
Drop spoonfuls into medium-hot oil (about 12.5mm or 0.5" is sufficient) and cook until the underside is golden. Turn and continue cooking until the other side is golden too.
Retrieve cooked doughnuts with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Toss in sugar and cinnamon mix.

Note: as for a lot of my gluten free recipes, I used a 50/50 mix of Orgran and FG Roberts gluten free flours.

Makes about 15 doughnuts.


love and light

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Garden Pics

Here's the shade I built for the carrots this morning - an old sheet hooked over 4 garden stakes. I've since added thick rubber bands around the tops of the stakes in case of wind.

In the foreground is a self-seeded tomato growing in the next bed and in the background are the asparagus. Nestled between the fence and the shade are some leeks and spring onions.

Here's the horseradish, growing quite strongly, with some flowering yarrow behind and rue to the right at the front.

The carrots are flowering too, in a bed with some kale.

In between the rows of maize, I've planted Lazy Housewife climbing beans, which are using the corn to climb. Well, some of them are and some are sort of creeping on the ground. Also in this bed are a few self-seeded tomatoes growing well.

I like to plant nasturtium near the edge of a bed - it helps to keep the pests and diseases at bay. This one is consorting with a dandelion near the lettuces which have bolted.

Some baby button squash.

The bergamot is in flower, too.
A bee getting nectar from an asparagus flower. Notice the yellowy-orange substance on her legs? Courtesy of the button squash and zucchini, I think, that grow nearby.

Bees coming and going from the bottom of the hive. It is actually more busy than this, but they are hard to photograph.

Sleeping on the job - what more can I say? And before you start thinking that must be a very narrow path - it is about 40cm (16"); it's just a very large cat!

Hope you enjoyed your visit.

love and light

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Happy New Year

I'm a bit of a late starter this New Year - been trying to minimise computer time and have also been rather busy with all manner of things. Here's a rough update about what I've been up to.

We went away for a few days over Christmas, but are all back home now, so things have been a little busy here, just fitting in the day to day stuff that we all do. Thanks to the rain, the garden survived our absence quite well.

One of our fur-children managed to get into a fight while we were away and developed a not very nice abscess for his efforts. This resulted in a trip to the vet, minor surgery with stitches, etc, etc. He's on the mend now, with the drains being removed today and the stitches to be removed next week.

The day of his surgery, we had a "pest management" person here destroying the European Wasp nest we had discovered the day before while pruning the pine trees with our next-door neighbours. At first I thought they might be some sort of bee (and was quite excited), until a quick search on the net revealed their true identity. Apparently, they can give you a nasty sting (although these ones were not at all aggressive) and they eat or kill the insects in the region of their nest. The fellow who destroyed them for us said that if we hadn't removed them they would have destroyed the bee colony by the end of summer. So, I was really glad we found them relatively early on.

Now to the bees! The day after the wasps were removed, I started noticing more bees around. Not sure whether it was due to the demise of the wasps or the lovely weather . . . until the next day when there was even more activity and more bees coming and going from the hive, as they were today also. I finally worked it out - we've had bee babies! When we got the new nucleus just before Christmas, the bee man said that there were brood cells in the frames. I think they must have hatched because there definitely is an increase in the number of bees coming and going into the hive. Yippee! I'll be opening the hive again in about another week to check on progress, but I'm already anticipating we may need to put a third box on the hive in the next few weeks.

Things have been growing in the garden as well and yesterday morning I managed to drag the other household members away from electronic gadgets and books to give me a hand for an hour or so. Our main focus at the moment is weeding, feeding and mulching, but I've also been planting a few more seeds.

I'm trying a new thing with the carrots, which I often have difficulty germinating in warmer weather because they need to be kept moist. One of my books suggests putting some peat moss in the bottom of a furrow, then sprinkling in the seed, covering them with more peat moss and then finally the soil. I know there are sustainability issues with using peat moss, but I'm hoping the little bit I'm using will be for a good cause. We are due some very warm weather early next week, so I'm going to explore putting up a temporary shade over the seed bed as well.

Before we know it, we'll be planning for the winter veges - time is fast approaching to be sowing cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, silver beet and Asian veges to tide us over during the winter months.

One thing I almost forgot to mention - I was soooo spoilt over Christmas with lovely gifts, one of which was the DVD collection of the four series of The Good Life. I have watched a few episodes (while busy sewing some new clothes I need for work) and it strikes me that this show is just as relevant today as it was when it was first released. So, if you have some time and can get your paws on them, I'd highly recommend watching them - lots better than the drivel usually on TV these days.

love and light